In the wake of our heated discussion of distributism, commenter Charlie Collier and I have been corresponding via e-mail. We tend to butt heads due to differing temperaments and differing approaches to dialogue, but ultimately it has pushed me to clarify the reasons behind my preference for the left-wing tradition and my dismissal of right-wing solutions as ultimately fantasies.
My preference is not based in a comparison of the various body counts or of any other obvious assessment of whether one side has been “worse” than the other — obviously both left- and right-wing revolutions have included their own horrors, though just as obviously the number of people who facelessly met their premature demise as a result of the inhuman priorities of capitalism is much greater than both put together.
No, my preference is based fundamentally on my assessment of the problem. Capitalism is a universal and universalizing force, an amazingly adaptable and expansionary force that can bring seemingly everything under its sway. As such, any solution to that problem has to operate on the same level of universality. The left recognizes the universal scope of the problem, and even if its concrete attempts at a solution are exhausting themselves at present (sadly even its reformist solution of social democratic welfare states), it still has enduring relevance as the tradition that has most convincingly diagnosed the nature and scope of the problem facing contemporary humanity. It is an indispensible starting point.
By contrast, the right wing response to capitalism is to attempt to erect some type of particularity as a bulwark against it. Most famously, the right in its most destructive form of fascism puts forth the nation as that stronghold. I’ve gotten a lot of push-back about my rule that the “third way” between capitalism and socialism always turns out to be a new form of fascism, but my justification is that those “third ways” are always about elevating some particularity as the way past the deadlock of capitalism. Many such attempts at a particular solution like this may be admirable and may contain things that other movements should emulate or use — but at best they’re going to be smashed by the force of capitalism, and at worst they’re going to be coopted and wind up reinforcing capitalism all the more.
I would also embrace a principle of convertibility here, according to which strategies of particularity — and especially those strategies that have principled objections to universalizability — are in essence right-wing movements, even if they embrace many principles that the traditional left finds congenial. Catholic Social Teaching is an example here, and most (though not all!) forms of “Christian politics” that I am familiar with fall into the same category. Distributism would be another example, as would rural-focused localisms.
It’s perhaps needlessly inflammatory for me to dismiss them all as “fascism,” but I do think it’s conceptually sound to call them right wing — and if critics of socialism always jump to Stalin, it seems only fair to jump to the most destructive form of right-wing politics for rhetorical effect.
And so I stand by my basic typology of political options in the modern capitalist world, which is based on my diagnosis of the nature of capitalism. In the center, you have liberalism, for which capitalism is here to stay and must simply be managed (and sometimes that “management” is held to consist in leaving it to its own devices). The attempts to get rid of capitalism can be classified as either trying to replace it with a system of similar universality and universalizability (left-wing) or retreating into a particularity that will shield us from its effects (right-wing). That really is how the situation is laid out: you have socialism (left-wing) or capitalism (liberalism), and the only place for a “third way” to land is on the right wing (whose exemplary form is fascism). There are of course possible objections to this schema, but I’m tired of people acting like it’s intellectual laziness on my part to hold to it.